Disruption is a term that is perhaps a little overused – or used wrongly – but there is little doubt that the impact of technology disrupting established industries in the last 25 years has had a society-altering effect. And in the next decade, it will have an even bigger effect as the rate of development accelerates.

The often-cited example is how the likes of Kodak and Blockbuster were hit by the disruptive effects of the emergence of the spread of technology. But it’s also worth mentioning that one of the reasons Blockbuster went out of business was not only because Netflix disrupted the model, but because they did so by adapting and embracing the change – building ecosystems of their own.

Blockbuster stayed with its original model of being a video rental company, while Netflix constantly improved itself. Netflix transitioned from a DVD subscription rental service – essentially an online Blockbuster – to streaming movies and TV models, to now being an actual creator of original content.

Idea of disruption

The idea of disruption, however, is not new and what we are seeing now is just part of the ongoing leaps in technology. What is significant, however, is that the time between each technological leap forward is getting shorter and happening faster.

The first industrial revolution (from roughly 1760 to 1820) led to the transition from 90 percent of the American population farming to just two percent. The emergent technology transformed agricultural societies into industrial ones, and it was not just in America, it happened in countries all around the world.

Then in the second industrial revolution (late 19th century into the early 20th century) saw people increasingly move to the cities, and rapid advances in the creation of steel, assembly lines, chemicals, electricity, and mass-produced consumer goods, while the movement was sped up thanks to trains and cars.

Then in the 1970s, the Third Industrial Revolution started, and it saw digital communications technology and the internet transform how information is disseminated and how we interact with one another or conduct business. Even within this time, change was rapid. In 2011 Apple released the iPad 2 which had computing power greater than the $17 million, car-sized, Cray 2 supercomputer of 1985. The iPad 2 itself is now obsolete.

Those Industrial Revolutions have been life-altering events for most of the planet and we are now entering a Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and biotechnology are changing our concepts of consciousness and life itself.  

Quantum computers will be able to process information significantly faster than existing supercomputers, and people working on it – including in the UAE – are saying that it could have a similar impact as the internet did. Digital business is set to be transformed once again.

Perhaps the most disruptive will be Artificial Intelligence.

The increase in everyday AI is happening now and is found in social media feeds Netflix algorithms, Amazon recommendations, predictive texting, Google Maps and much more. Even the infuriating Chatbots that seem primitive now is rapidly improving and will soon be able to operate at the same level – or in some cases better depending on the company – as the humans in the call centre.

One of the biggest leaps about to happen is in that of healthcare. AI has been driving great advances in medicine and healthcare with better disease prevention, higher accuracy diagnosis, and more effective treatment and cures for some time now. More is to come through and looks set to be game-changing.

Platform transformations are also inevitable and changing your operating model is going to happen as a result. You can’t hide from the future, but you can prepare for it.

Often, however, we don’t see the disruption coming and future predictions are based on extrapolating the present and assuming things will continue as the same course. Large-scale, true, disruption changes the course of society and can rapidly disrupt an established norm. Here’s an example…

In the late 1800s, large urban centres were “drowning in horse manure”. With no obvious solution to this problem, people were making dire predictions. In 1894, The Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. In Manhattan, the situation was even worse, but unbeknownst to the world, Henry Ford was about to release his Model T Ford.

By 1912, cars in New York outnumbered horses, and by 1917 horse-drawn streetcars stopped running. The problem was solved by an emergent technology that very few saw coming and the motor car transformed the world and how people move around.

The next decade is going to see a rapid advance in technology and disruption, with some having the same impact as the car or the internet. Embracing it and continually adapting to the smarter future is going to be the only way to stay relevant in a digital business world. Just ask Blockbuster.